As we’re heading into the seven- or eight-billionth Republican debate tonight, CNN’s moderators may find themselves asking the same old questions that have been litigated extensively in debates past. So here’s a fresh one they should ask Donald Trump: Why has he not fired his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who earlier this week allegedly used physical force against a female reporter?
Michelle Fields, a reporter for Breitbart, was trying to ask Trump a question about affirmative action following his Florida press conference on Tuesday night. “Trump acknowledged the question,” Fields writes in her account on Breitbart, “but before he could answer I was jolted backwards. Someone had grabbed me tightly by the arm and yanked me down. I almost fell to the ground, but was able to maintain my balance. Nonetheless, I was shaken.” Though Fields did not know who had grabbed her, Washington Post reporter Ben Terris confirmed that it was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager.
Fields adds in her post on Breitbart that went up this morning:
Even if Trump was done taking questions, Lewandowski would be out of line. Campaign managers aren’t supposed to try to forcefully throw reporters to the ground, no matter the circumstance. But what made this especially jarring is that there was no hint Trump was done taking questions. No one was pushing him to get away. He seemed to have been happily answering queries from my fellow reporters just a moment before.
Do yourself a favor and do not read the comments on Fields’ story.
In a fair world, Lewandowski would at least lose his job and pray that no charges were pressed against him. Any outlet whose reporter was handled like this by a member of a campaign, let alone a campaign manager, would forcefully make such a case. But Breitbart has a notoriously close relationship with the Trump campaign. The most Breitbart mustered publically at first was a lukewarm statement from its CEO calling for an apology, if Fields’ story is true: “It’s obviously unacceptable that someone crossed a line and made physical contact with our reporter,” CEO and president Larry Solov said. “What Michelle has told us directly is that someone ‘grabbed her arm’ and while she did not see who it was, Ben Terris of the Washington Post told her that it was Corey Lewandowski. If that’s the case, Corey owes Michelle an immediate apology.”
Meanwhile, here are some tweets that Fields’ colleague at Breitbart, Patrick Howley, posted and has since hastily deleted:
Breitbart announced Thursday afternoon that Howley had been suspended indefinitely and said it stands with Fields:
Lewandowski’s excuse, The Daily Beast’s Lloyd Grove reports, is that he didn’t know Fields was a Breitbart reporter. “He and Fields had never met before,” Grove writes, “and… he didn’t recognize her as a Breitbart reporter, instead mistaking her for an adversarial member of the mainstream media.” By that measure, it’s perfectly acceptable practice in the Trump campaign to use physical force against reporters, so long as they don’t work for an outlet like Breitbart.
Donald Trump surrounds himself with thugs. He maintains several longtime bodyguards who, I can attest personally, are awfully quick to push reporters around. He now has a Secret Service detail, too. They may be the most professional of the bunch, which is genuinely frightening. At Trump events I’ve covered, an additional layer of goons with earpieces roams through the crowd, looking for any opportunity to use muscle. I can imagine Trump gets many threats and requires ample security. But his protectors seem to genuinely enjoy making demonstrations of force. And now that includes his campaign manager.
Will Lewandowski be reprimanded in any way? The Trump campaign has not responded to a request for comment. CNN has an excellent opportunity to ask Trump, himself, about it during Thursday night’s debate.
Update, 2 p.m.: Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks issued the following statement to ABC News, denying that the incident ever happened and questioning Fields’ credibility:
Update, 2:10 p.m.: Fields has tweeted out a photo of bruises on her arm:
And Terris, the Washington Post reporter who witnessed the incident, has published his account:
As security parted the masses to give him passage out of the chandelier-lit ballroom, Michelle Fields, a young reporter for Trump-friendly Breitbart News, pressed forward to ask the GOP front-runner a question. I watched as a man with short-cropped hair and a suit grabbed her arm and yanked her out of the way. He was Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s 41-year-old campaign manager.
Fields stumbled. Finger-shaped bruises formed on her arm.
“I’m just a little spooked,” she said, a tear streaming down her face. “No one has grabbed me like that before.”
She took my arm and squeezed it hard. “I don’t even want to do it as hard as he did,” she said, “because it would hurt.”
This post has been updated.